A vulnerable and developmentally disabled 15-year-old was sexually assaulted twice in 30 minutes last fall at the University of Minnesota Medical Center emergency department, according to a lawsuit that accuses the Fairview hospital of failing to protect its patients.
Security footage shows a man, 29-year-old Jamal Strong, entering from his nearby room and fondling the frightened girl in her ER bed, said attorney Jeff Storms, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the girl and her family. Strong had stopped when hospital staff arrived and took him back to his room, but he returned within five minutes and continued to assault the girl until he was caught the second time, according to the lawsuit.
Both patients had been admitted due to mental health crises, and the girl was placed in the adult ER only because there were no open pediatric psychiatric beds, Storms said.
“It’s just jaw-dropping,” he said. “You’ve got not just one but two patients who have mental health crises and apparently they’re not watching either of them.”
In a statement to the Star Tribune, Fairview spokeswoman Camie Melton Hanily said she couldn’t discuss specific incidents involving patients, but stressed that patient safety is a priority for the hospital.
“Despite our best efforts, incidents can occur, and we are sincerely sorry when they do,” she wrote. “While we are not able talk about private patient information or specific events, we assure you that safety concerns are immediately investigated, we look for ways to improve our procedures, and we take additional actions as circumstances warrant.”
The Fairview hospital has had other recent security breakdowns involving pediatric mental health patients. In December, a 13-year-old patient with bipolar disorder was allowed outside the hospital’s locked psychiatric unit just two days after he tried to asphyxiate himself with a blanket and sweatshirt.
He ran from his therapist and was found near the Franklin Avenue bridge, according to a federal Medicare investigative report of the incident.
A source with knowledge of the hospital also told the Star Tribune that state inspectors visited last week due to two additional reports of adolescents running away from a pediatric psychiatry unit.
Strong pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault, but sentencing is pending due to questions about his mental competency, according to the lawsuit.
His victim was too frightened to resist her attacker, Storms said, and has developmental and mental disabilities including complications from fetal alcohol syndrome. “She is a scared girl who does not have the same understanding of her surroundings like someone else does,” Storms said.
Her parents are seeking compensation for their daughter’s suffering and additional treatment costs, as well as changes that would prevent other patients from being hurt.